Play Every Town

251 252 Community Concerts for a Cooler Climate


Concert Twenty-Five: 3/4/23 at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

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Jericho is just two towns over from our home in Huntington. I drove to Good Shepherd via Jericho Corners (rather than our normal route through Jericho Center with its iconic 1807 general store) so that I would pass by the Old Red Mill , home to the Snowflake Bentley museum. Just before the village I noticed the old pylons of an abandoned commuter rail bridge, which made me ponder how quickly modes of transit have come and gone in this country, and how peculiar some of our societal transportation choices have been. (I’ll follow up on this with a little blog post about the Cambridge branch of the Burlington & Lamoille RR.)

Pylons of the old RR trestle bridge

Jericho’s Old Red Mill...

...home to the Snowflake Bentley Museum

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (& Dollar General)

Good Shepherd lies between villages, a good two miles past Jericho Corners and a mile short of Underhill Flats. As you see in the picture, it’s right next to a Dollar General, which is ironic, because in my concert spiel about how Vermont’s village centers and downtowns are hanging on tenaciously to a lively sense of community despite many pressures to the contrary, I often include among these stresses “the dollar store on the edge of town”. (I chose not to say this in my Jericho concert.)
This concert had its origins in my Underhill performance in June 2022. Barbara Thomke was in the audience and afterwards invited me to follow her to her home church in neighboring Jericho to try out the piano. As we arrived in the pouring rain, she was unable to conceal her pride in the space and the instrument, both of which are indeed marvelous. The G5 is one of the most lovely Yamahas I have played, with a warm and mellow tone that is not typically associated with the Yamaha aesthetic, and the space, unassuming from the outside, is stunning from within.

Barbara and Jan Steinbauer made all the extensive arrangements for this concert, which included the participation of a large chorus and a lavish reception.

“Barbara filled the borders of...

...Jericho, Jericho, Jericho”

Ceiling with exposed posts and beams

Rehearsing with the Freedom & Unity Chorus

The audience joins in “Joyful, Joyful”, Pastor Arnold and Barbara in the foreground

It happened that the following year would mark the 50th anniversary of the congregation as well as the retirement of Pastor Arnold Thomas, so we arranged for a concert in March to kick off the celebrations. To honor the occasion and to the substantial number of congregants who would be present, I took the opportunity to program some music related directly and indirectly to the Lutheran tradition.

As I told the assembled audience/congregation: I’m not a Lutheran; my people are still stuck on the first reformation of our Mosaic tradition, the one undertaken by the Apostle Paul 1500 years earlier. We have a couple of questions about that.

Nonetheless, I find much to admire in the reforms of Martin Luther. One of his major criticisms of the Catholic church of his day was the indirect nature of the relationship between humans and God. The priesthood acted as intermediaries, and not just in confession: in Mass, only the priests prayed; only the choir of clerics sang; and they did all this in Latin, so the assembled laity did not even understand what was being said.

Luther most famously addressed this by translating the Bible into the vernacular and conducting worship entirely in German. But his musical reform was just as significant. It is not enough that people understand the words; like any good singalong leader, Luther understood that to get people to participate, you need simple, memorable, possibly familiar tunes—which he proceeded to gather from anyplace he could find them. He composed a number of enduring hymn tunes himself, making him one of the most-performed composers of all time. And he did not hesitate to use preexisting vernacular tunes, including drinking and bawdy songs; evidently he felt there were no sinful melodies, only inappropriate lyrics.

The program

“Innsbruck” (Isaac) followed by “Ich bin’s” (Bach), preceded by chat

Pastor Arnold sings “Star of the County Down”

To illustrate Luther’s approach, I played Heinrich Isaac’s haunting melancholic song “Innsbruck”, followed by a Lutheran hymn using Isaac’s tune, as harmonized by the archetypical Lutheran composer J.S. Bach. Pastor Arnold, who has a stunning rich bass voice, joined me for two songs: as he pointed out, the tune of one, “The Star of the County Down”, aptly enough, was found in Good Shepherd’s hymnal. In proper Lutheran spirit, the entire audience joined in for the hymn “Joyful, Joyful”, which takes as its tune the choral theme from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I also had the pleasure of accompanying Vermont’s Freedom and Unity Chorus, many of whose members live in Jericho. Of course I had to play my “Happy Birthday Martin”, composed to honor Martin Luther King Jr. And as always there was the numerically appropriate Scarlatti sonata.

Pastor Arnold sings “Pilgrim of Sorrow”

The Freedom and Unity Chorus sings Ingrid Michaelson’s “Blood Brothers”

Scarlatti Sonata in F-sharp minor, K.25 (preceded by 25 ii-V-I’s)

...about the piano

Yamaha concert model G5 serial no. 459358 was made in 1988 at the Hamamatsu factory in Japan, and extensively reconditioned by Allan Day in 2017. It has an exceptionally warm tone and giving touch that are not characteristic of Yamahas, which are usually more brilliant and crisp.

It belonged to Good Shepherd member Linda Poppe in the 1980s. When Linda moved to a smaller house, the piano barely fit. Linda thought of finding someone to buy it, but she says, “In prayer God told me No, that it was His. I argued for a while, but that was the answer.” So in 1993, once Good Shepherd’s building project with a new post and beam sanctuary was completed, it was moved to the church. There Linda and other members who volunteered their musical talent played it for worship services, and for the choir that Linda conducted and/or accompanied. She also continued to offer piano lessons on it.

Linda moved to Florida in 2008, leaving her gift. She remains an active Associate Member of Good Shepherd, participating in online prayer services and spiritual growth opportunities. Liz Dillon, a member of the church who had received piano lessons on it from Linda years ago, now in turn gives piano lessons to other children and adults.

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